Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 259-Good and Evil

Dear Mr. President,

I have a constant struggle between the parts of me that believe people are basically good and the part that believes people are selfish and amoral. I want the believe the best of people, in general. But my parents were cops, and the people they dealt with daily were murders, rapists and child molesters. People who are difficult, if not impossible, to forgive or to find redemptive goodness in. At work it is my job to catch shoplifters. This is a much smaller scale of badness than what my parents dealt with, but I often encounter individuals who challenge my belief in man's fundamental goodness. Today was one of those days. While it was ultimately a positive outcome, the incident has definitely made me reflect on what I believe.

The process of enforcing the law, on whatever scale it has to be done, requires a sort of reactionary mentality that isn't generally how I see myself. When I'm catching a criminal, I don't have time to think about the circumstances in a person's life that led to their crime. I don't have time to consider the societal problems that have forced them into the situation, or a long-term strategy for their rehabilitation. I have to react to what they do a the time they do it in whatever way I can best minimize the damage. I try to be respectful and always consider the humanity of the people I deal with. A person's humanity does not, of course, exempt them from mankind's more instinctive and animal-like impulses- fight or flight- and anticipating this while respecting the individual's humanity is one of the more challenging aspects of my job. I consider a number of circumstantial factors that combine to make a person desperate, and I don't think I have encountered any one I would actually call evil. Even when choosing fight over flight, I don't believe that a person can be judged by their worst and most desperate behavior. But this does not exempt them from responsibility for their choices, and that is why I have to react to the situation and not to the big picture.

You don't have that luxury, unfortunately. You were, after all, the one who ran for President. You knew what you were getting into when you applied for the job. So while I do the best I can to deal with the situation at hand, to stop criminals without losing my compassion for them, you've got to think about the greater problem. I deal with crimes. You worry about Crime, an abstract, complex concept that affects and is affected by everything from economics to education to social values. I'd be incredibly happy to be put out of a job, to have all crime stopped by some massive national policy that magically makes us a peaceful, crime-free society. Living, as I unfortunately must, in the real world, I'm not too worried about my job security. That being said, budget shortfalls in my state are leading to fewer police officers and certainly also to an increase in crime rates. Today I chased down a shoplifter and was assaulted in the process. That's part of my job. Today the federal government spent more than $410 million on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the year 2011, Seattle taxpayers alone will contribute $36.9 million to these two wars- enough to pay for more than 4,000 police officers, or 48,000 university scholarships. These wars were started- and continue to be waged- under the pretext of fighting "evil". I may not believe in evil the same way that many people seem to, but I think much more good might be done with that money, in my city, in Iraq or in Afghanistan. Making the tough decisions about how this money is spent is your job, Mr. President, and I think it is one area with plenty of room for improvement. You can't make people good, or even ensure that they always make good choices. Mistakes and bad judgement and selfishness are unfortunate realities that no government can solve. However, there is a lot more we could do to make our society healthier and safer, and these wars don't seem to be doing much of either.

Respectfully yours,


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